One could say that embarking on a trek through the Yorkshire Dales is rather like one’s journey through life itself. A life-journey in microcosm. Never one to waste a good metaphor, I often say it even if that requires shamelessly stretching the analogy.
A few weeks back I walked up Fountains Fell. It was a ‘recce’ for a larger walk later in the year. The first part of the walk was along the Pennine Way and was well marked. Nevertheless, it was very cold, very damp and, as I ascended, increasingly foggy. By the time I was near the top I could only just see the signs telling me to stick to the footpath or risk disappearing down a disused mine shaft.
Life is hazardous, I thought.
I do a lot of thinking when I walk, particularly when I’m out alone. Of course, I don’t spend the whole time navel-gazing; I do also take in the view and, if I’m walking with friends, I try not to appear overly anti-social. But, many’s the time when I’ve come off the hillside having cleared my head and gained a new perspective on a problem. I’ve plotted a new course of action. I’ve decided which way I’m going next. It may turn out to be the wrong way but at least I’m moving and not just standing around in the fog feeling miserable.
To reach the summit of Fountains Fell – and tick that Hewitt off my list – I needed to leave the main path. Near the summit there was a smaller path to the left which led to one of the aforementioned mine shafts before appearing to peter out.
And there was a sign post. It was literally just a post, lacking any actual signs. Presumably they had perished over repeated Yorkshire winters. Either that, or a wry-humoured park ranger had placed the signless post there as if to say: if you’re not content with the path you’re on then you need to find your own way.
The mine shaft had a fence around it. Were there others and were they fenced off too? I questioned whether continuing over the barren hilltop moorland alone in this weather was entirely sensible. Come on, I thought, it was only Fountains Fell, not the Matterhorn. The risk of death was only slight. Hmm! Was it a Yorkshireman who told me if you’re spending too much time worrying about death, you’ve probably not got enough else to worry about.
So I turned back. Obviously, on that hill on that day all the signs were telling me to go home and have a nice cup of tea.